Four takeaways from Pistons Summer League: Better safe than sorry

Detroit News

When the Pistons released their Summer League roster earlier this month, the squad had the potential to be one of the best teams in Las Vegas, on paper.

Detroit surprisingly listed two of its best players in Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey on its summer team, alongside top rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, both lottery picks in the 2022 NBA Draft. A few of the Pistons’ key returners, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers, were also named to the roster.

However, when the ball was tipped for Detroit’s opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, Cunningham and Bey were in street clothes. They ultimately watched all five games courtside. Hayes was limited to just one contest. Stewart and Livers played in two games, and Duren got reps in three exhibitions until he was shut down for the final two against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic.

Ivey’s sparse playing time in Vegas was dynamic, and it left Pistons fans salivating for what a likely starting backcourt with Cunningham would look like. His time, albeit explosive, was cut short due to an ankle injury in the second game against the Wizards.

The Pistons won their first two games with its best starting lineup on the floor, and then decided to rest its key players for precautionary reasons and to allow their two-way players — and others looking to prove themselves in the league — an opportunity to get acclimated to the speed of the NBA.

The result was a 3-2 record (including a win over the eventual champion Blazers), a glimpse at how Ivey and Duren could contribute to Detroit’s core group, offensive and defensive improvements from Stewart and Livers and more.

Pistons’ Cade Cunningham ‘excited’ to play with Jaden Ivey; Jalen Rose lauds rebuild

Here are four takeaways from the Pistons’ five games in Summer League: 

Stewart’s developing perimeter game

On the first play of the Pistons’ Summer League opener, Isaiah Stewart set a screen and Detroit rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren hooked up for what could be the first of many explosive alley-oop connections.

It’s easy to focus on the dunk because it was the first score of the game and it featured the dynamic duo of Ivey and Duren, but take another glance and you’ll see Stewart pop to the corner behind the 3-point line.

Stewart didn’t get an opportunity to shoot on that possession, but it shows the mentality and confidence he has in his 3-pointer as he transitions to playing more on the perimeter. He would later show his ability to knock down the deep ball in clutch situations, specifically on back-to-back triples in the fourth quarter against Washington.

The 6-foot-9 emerging power forward connected on 3-of-4 attempts (75%) from deep against the Blazers, and made 2-of-5 (40%) from distance against the Wizards.

“I’m very comfortable shooting that shot, especially having to play the 4 some,” Stewart said. “That shot comes pretty easily when you play the 4, when a guy drives and overhelps, it allows the 3. It’s going to be a great look.”

Livers’ communication and defense

In his limited time as a rookie last season, Livers proved he’s capable of being a potent 3-point shooter. Now, the former Michigan forward is looking to step up his intensity on the defensive end, with his play and his voice.

Livers didn’t shoot the ball well in Detroit’s opener against Portland, but he impacted the game on the defensive end. He came away with two blocks and a steal, including a dynamic chasedown block. His vocal intensity, which he picked up from Michigan coach Juwan Howard, was also prevalent through the first two games in Vegas as he could often be heard calling out screens and defensive assignments.

The 2022 tournament served as Livers’ first opportunity to play in Summer League. He couldn’t play last year because he was recovering from a lingering foot injury, so he could only watch his teammates from the sideline.

“I’m blessed and grateful to have a full healthy summer. Knock on wood,” Livers said. “Next season is gonna be just like the same approach to Summer League. I’m gonna do my job defensively…I’m going to knock down open shots. I’m gonna do whatever coach Casey wants me to do.”

Livers has a prime opportunity to become a regular in the Pistons’ rotation, especially if he becomes a reliable 3-and-D player.

Ivey’s shot could be a big weapon

Jaden Ivey needed just one half against the Blazers to grow more comfortable with the speed of the NBA game. The 6-4 guard out of Purdue showed flashes of his explosiveness and quickness, along with his ability to attack the paint, facilitate for others and stretch the floor with his shooting in all of five quarters in Las Vegas.

One play stood out shortly before Wizards forward Isaiah Todd got a little too close on a closeout, forcing Ivey to land awkwardly on Todd’s foot.

Ivey facilitated a pick-and-pop with Stewart and instead of driving to the basket, Ivey executed a stepback and drained a rainbow 3 in front of his defender. He’s known for his ability to get to the rim, but he’ll be a tougher player to defend if he can use his driving ability as a decoy to lure his opponents to sleep and convert on long 3s.

Combine Ivey’s athleticism with Cunningham’s playmaking and finishing ability and the Pistons could have one of the most formidable young backcourts in the Eastern Conference.

“So, it’s going to be something good to see,” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. “We haven’t had a lot of it. We had two weeks together before we got here of those two guys working together, so it’s going to be exciting to see the rest of the summer and into training camp with both of them on the floor and how they handle that, but they do have the ability to do that.”

Key could become a glue guy

The Pistons have two two-way players signed to the roster: Buddy Boeheim and Braxton Key.

Let’s talk about the 6-8 Key, who signed his two-way deal with Detroit on April 22.

Key, who played nine games for Detroit last season, played in all 5 Summer League games and averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. He also chipped in 2.4 assists and showed promise on the defensive end with 2 steals per game.

With his versatility, he could become a utility guy that could be called upon if the injury bug bites the Pistons.

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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